The Devil’s Brew

Ask me what I’d rather give up—coffee or breathing—and I’d have to think about it. I suppose it’s a good thing that breathing occurs unconsciously because coffee is always on my mind.

This time of year, my coffee vehicle of choice becomes cold brew, that luscious, dark nectar that provides the quickest of caffeine jolts. With the long-awaited arrival of spring / summer in Helsinki, my precious elixir of life has been sitting and steeping for two days now, all ready to slowly filter (twice) and then sip and savour and enjoy. I’ve been waiting for this process for what seems like years.

Alas, something was slightly amiss when I opened the fridge this morning and reached for the pitcher of black loveliness.

Saatana coffee

To me, cold brew is the elixir of life; to The Cuban, cold brew is ‘The Devil’s brew’. (NB: Saatana in Finnish is Satan.)

My husband, The Joker.

He understands and accepts my love affair with coffee, just as much as he accepts my obsession with office supplies, books, yarn and Roger Federer. But, cold brew evidently is where he draws the line.

To Cubans, coffee is delivered in tiny little cups that resemble those itty bitty china tea sets for children’s make-believe tea parties. Those cups, which are so cute, simply don’t provide more than a sip or a gulp. In other words, it’s a coffee fairytale. The first time someone handed me a ‘cup’ of coffee in Cuba, I thought they were joking. ‘Where’s the rest of it?’, I asked The Cuban. He quickly explained that Cubans drink tiny cups throughout the day rather than opting for my giant bowl with a handle vessel. [NB: I now know to ask for a double every single time I ask for coffee in Cuba. It’s just easier and less disappointing that way.] Shortly thereafter, The Cuban developed the ‘Vanessa drinks coffee this way…’ explanation. I’m fairly certain our friends and family all think I’m certifiable or so wired that my heart will leap out of my chest at any moment. But, I will have my proper dosage of caffeine.

cafe cubano wink

Two cups from a friend’s flat in Havana. Each cup featured a different face. As cute as they are, they’re fall too small for this girl’s coffee.

Despite the Cuban climate being insanely hot and humid especially when compared to Finland, cafe cubano is always served hot and just off the stove, typically with sugar. To my mind, cold brew is perfect for those sultry, sticky days and nights. I am so wrong, it would appear. My husband’s reaction upon introduction to cold brew went something like this:

‘Cold brew?! What is this evilness you are making? You’re ruining the coffee! Have I taught you nothing?!’… as if this girl ever needed lessons on making or drinking coffee.

So, this morning’s little message, one of a million tiny quickly scribbled notes scattered across our 12 years together, once again made me laugh silently and smile adoringly. To my darling husband, cold brew is indeed ‘The Devil’.

He may have embraced a more reasonable measuring cup by which to drink his own coffee. You know, a proper cup of coffee (still far too small for me, but progress is progress). And, I may have accepted the joke that is a Cuban thimble of coffee. But, just as I’ve had to draw the line at a respectable size for that all-important cup of coffee in the morning, The Cuban evidently drew his own line at cold brew.

Something tells me my summer caffeine jolt will now and forever be known as ‘The Devil’s Brew’.

Happy International Coffee Day!

It’s safe to say that I personally celebrate coffee each and every day. Today, my country celebrates National Coffee Day.

But, did you know that 1 October 2015 will be first International Coffee Day?!

That a day each is year is devoted to that most luscious of morning, day and night brews makes loads of sense to me. Coffee represents the only elixir I cannot live without. And, features prominently on my calendar each and every day. Now, I have an official reason to celebrate my daily dose of caffeine (not that I really needed one).

So, break out the brew and enjoy a cup of your favourite joe. Personally, I’ll be enjoying another cup of my favourite of all coffees — Cuban Turquino.


Day 24: Proekt 365 (Afternoon / early evening tea)

Day 24: Proekt 365 A spot of afternoon / early evening tea (and chocolate)

Day 24: Proekt 365
A spot of afternoon / early evening tea (and chocolate)

I love cups of tea, particularly on cold, grey winter days. Add a side of chocolate, and my afternoon is pretty much perfect.

This particular cup was a gift from a dear friend who a) knows how much I love large cups for tea and coffee; and b) was acutely aware of the pain I suffered last year when I clumsily shattered my beloved coffee cup one morning. (I think she also knows me well enough to understand that I frequently spill my coffee / tea / beverages all over myself / desk / floor / counter when I fill them too full and the cup itself is too small. No such worry with this cup, which is perfect.)

Today has been a rather grey and extremely cold winter day in Helsinki. Some snow fell, which was lovely. But, it’s a sleepy sort of end to another frenetic, crazy week. My afternoon cup of tea today was a bit late in the making, but I’m enjoying it all the same. Paired with some chocolate and sipped from my lovely cup, this isn’t a bad way to end this particular week.

Here’s hoping that your weekend is relaxing, filled with laughter and warmth and that your cups runneth over (err….sort of), regardless of what is actually in them.

Day 3: Proekt 365

Day 3: Proekt 365

Day 3: Proekt 365

I love coffee. The darker the roast, the better. The richer, deeper the flavour, the better. If you asked me to give up coffee, it’d have to be for something incredibly extraordinary to warrant any consideration at all (e.g., ending poverty and all forms of social injustice, all wars and acts of violence and human suffering). Even then, I’d have to really think about it. (I jest…but only slightly.)

From that first sip as a young girl, I have enjoyed a special relationship with coffee. And, each day begins with coffee first and foremost.

At one point in my life, I always had a cup of coffee with me. This habit was so persistent and recognised amongst my social network that a professor of mine once brought me a comforting cup of coffee minutes before a presentation at a national conference. I cannot tell you how much that boosted my confidence (and how much it meant to me on a personal level as well — thanks, Bill!). It was also at that time that my thesis advisor and I would discuss research and work on her NIH project and my thesis project over an afternoon coffee break, often sharing the cup of very fine coffee she was making for herself. (Honestly, I didn’t arrive ‘just in time’ on purpose, Kathy!) At that time in my life, I was probably a 20-cup a day coffee fiend. Pretty much every part of my day involved coffee and I’d never, ever turn down a good cup of joe. Once, my local supplier in Connecticut asked me to taste coffees as a means of quality control in order to help them decide to contract a new supplier (I gave the supplier a thumb’s down and left that little treat of a tasting quite literally flying). I’ve long since cut way back on my daily caffeine intake, partially for general health reasons and partially to allow me to sleep a little more easily.

My daily coffee routine (or ritual?) these days is consistent. My first ‘cup’ (which, if you’ve seen my cup, resembles a bowl with a handle rather than a traditional 8-oz cup) brews whilst I am launching the various applications I use every day at my desk. Mostly, I am just wasting time until I can get that first cup down my gullet and coursing through my veins. I’m useless until I have at least half a cup of my go-go juice in the morning. During that first cup, it’s my time to sort out my goals and targets for the day, take care of any lingering administrative crap, tidy up the kitchen if necessary and generally enjoy a calm, quiet and serene start to a new day.

I’m now a two- or -three cuppa girl and generally consume those luscious cups before 15.00 or 16.00 in the afternoon. (This is no problem since I’m an early riser on most days.) I must have at least one full cup before I leave the house (which does mean setting an alarm to allow time for that precious re-fueling ritual) and will leave the house with the second in hand. My favourite coffees are all dark roasts: Ethiopian, Tanzanian Peaberry, Sumatra Mandheling, Brazilian Kalosi, Guatemalan Antigua and, of course, Cuban Turquino. One of the best coffees I’ve ever had is the typical hard currency Cuban brand, Cubita.

I was recently reminded of the ‘origin’ of coffee, which is silly and awesome at once. Evidently, 12th century goats danced from bush to bush eating those fine berries, which was observed and copied by their goatherder, Kaldi.

‘Hooray for goats!’, I say. And, thanks, Kaldi! I cannot imagine a world without coffee.

The Ultimate Go-Go Juice

Give me intravenous coffee as an alarm -- the perfect alarm clock.

As I opened up my various daily news sources, I had to chuckle when this headline and the associated image at popped up. Intravenous coffee as an alarm clock has long been my idea of the perfect gift/gadget.

I love coffee. It’s taste. It’s smell. The various ways in which you can brew it. And, most of all, I love the varieties. I’m a bit of a snob in some ways in that my perfect cup of joe is a fresh dark roast finely ground just minutes before brewed. Most days, I’ll take whatever I can get as long as it is extremely strong and a rich dark roast.

As an undergraduate in Atlanta, I’d normally start the day with an entire pot of coffee. At the time, hazelnut was my preferred flavor (can’t stand it anymore). I had this huge 32-oz coffee mug that I’d carry with me throughout each day during classes. I’d run to the commissary in between classes to fill it up. At the peak of my consumption, the tally was shocking—something like more than 20 cups a day on average. As I said, shocking.

In graduate school both at The University of Alabama–Tuscaloosa and at The University of Connecticut in Storrs, we were fortunate to have brilliant coffee joints on or close to campus. In Tuscaloosa, the coffee shop across the strip from campus (and luckily a mere 5-minute walk from my flat) would roast their beans in-house. The smell was amazing, and the coffee matched that aroma. It was then that I realised just how yummy a fresh dark roast can be. My consumption went down, but the enjoyment of the coffee increased. My favourite cups of joe were those shared with my thesis advisor, mentor and friend, normally in the afternoon.

In Storrs at UConn, Java Joint became my daily dose source. This is where I learned what flavours I truly enjoyed. Tanzanian Peaberry. Sumatra. Ethiopian something or other. Brazilian Santos. Guatemalan Antigua. I think of them all the Sumatran and the Brazilian Santos were and still are my favourites.

Every day, I’d arrive at the little trailer which became a bigger trailer which eventually became a proper shop inside the bookstore with my more manageable thermos and have it filled with the most divine coffee. I’d usually stop in sometime later in the day in the afternoon before a seminar or office hours or a meeting with a committee member. Occasionally, the cup of joe would serve as a prop and pick me up during a peripatetic meeting with a close friend and intellectual giant with whom I was fortunate enough to work. I miss those days, and I desperately miss that coffee.

Bags of cafe de cuba from a fantastic coffee shop in Havana, Cuba.

These days, I’ll take whatever dark roast I can get. The latest great-tasting coffee to hit our kitchen is Cuban coffee. It’s subtle and lovely, and packs an outstanding kick. The Cubans in my life think anything other than a thimble’s worth of coffee is too much. I’m quite happy to enjoy two cups a day now.

That said, it’s time for that second cup.